Chabad Highlights Bernie Sanders' Role in Public Chanukah Menorah Issue

Hasidic movement's website recalls how Sanders, as mayor of Burlington, supported public lighting of menorah in the name of religious freedom.

Bernie Sanders after winning the New Hampshire primary, Concord, New Hampshire, Feb. 9, 2016.
Reuters

Bernie Sanders played a pivotal role in the expansion of public menorahs in the United States, according to a blogger for the Hasidic Jewish Chabad.org website.

Chabad has for many years lit Channukah menorahs during the eight-day holiday, which almost always falls in December. The blog stated that it was not endorsing the candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.

"Needless to say, as is well known, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement does not endorse any political candidate, and this and any other information Chabad.org publicizes is for informational purposes," the blog said.

The blog referred to his contribution when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s as "Bernie Sanders' important and principled role in popularizing Chanukah observance."

His role was summed up in four parts. "As mayor of Burlington, Vt., Bernie Sanders publicly inaugurated the Chabad-Lubavitch Public Menorah at Burlington’s City Hall," according to the blog. "Sanders recited the blessings and lit the Menorah’s candles at Burlington’s first-ever public Chanukah Menorah lighting. Defying significant pressure from political peers, Sanders strongly supported the Chabad-Lubavitch Public Menorah and directed his administration to defend it in court. The early and strong support from the Sanders administration played a significant role in the now widespread phenomenon of public Chanukah Menorah celebrations countrywide."

The blog then goes into the background, recalling that Mayor Sanders accepted Chabad's invitation to light a menorah that was installed in City Hall Park in December 1983, sparking an almost immediate protest from the ACLU. While the governor, Madeleine Kunin, disagreed with Sanders about the menorah's permissibility, "the mayor and his administration were steadfast in their determination to allow the religious expression in the public sphere," the blog states.

Some of his supporters apparently urged him to back down, but Sanders stuck by the menorah lighting. While a U.S. district judge backed the menorah being on public property, the Second Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. The menorah lighting ceremony is now held on the University of Vermont campus.

The website cites various friends and acquaintances of Sanders who recall his support for the menorah on principle.

“When Bernie and I discussed the menorah issue, it was a religious freedom case, recalled Richard Sugarman, a philosophy professor at the University of Vermont, who has known sanders for nearly half a century.